by Kari van Wakeren
Recently I took part in a parenting training that focused on taking the energy out of our responses to negative behaviors. The training also focused on giving clear requests to our children.
“I know you are all polite,” the facilitator said, “but when making requests to your children, they’ll respond better if you don’t say, ‘Please.’”
One parent had a difficult time with this. It felt odd to her not to use good manners when requesting that her child do something. “I need you to take the dog out,” she practiced, before adding, “please.” Many of us in the room could empathize.
Pressure to be nice
This got me thinking about the idea of being nice. I wondered if the dads in the room had as much trouble as the moms with omitting “please” from requests. My first thought was probably not because women seem to face more societal pressure than men to be nice.
At least in my neck of the woods, niceness is a valued character trait among women. Being agreeable, easy to work with and flexible are esteemed. The goal of being viewed as nice, all too often, can lead to not standing up for ourselves or others. We bend over backward to please someone else without considering that it doesn’t have to be that way.
I remember the first time I felt taken advantage of because of my desire to be nice to someone. I decided then and there not to let it happen again. I stopped viewing being nice as so desirable.
When I think about the times I went along with what someone else thought or did rather than assert myself, I’m even more determined to help my daughter know herself and honor who God has made her.
I don’t want her to worry as much as I did about being liked or what others think.
Willingness to speak up
Saying goodbye to “nice” has grown my self-confidence and willingness to speak up—even when it might be easier to stay quiet. When speaking up, I do still try to be kind. There is a lot of truth to the adage, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.”
There are times when doing justice demands that we give up on being nice. But saying goodbye to “nice” doesn’t mean we have to be rude. Micah 6:8 reminds me that it is possible to be kind while stepping forward when someone is wronged.
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
In fact, you show yourself kindness when you value yourself enough not to let someone walk all over you. And you show kindness to others when you refuse to let someone talk to them in a demeaning or shameful way. If we hold to the idea of being nice, we might not to say anything at all.
My utmost desire is for my children to become people who are confident, generous and kind. I want them to know who they are in Christ so that they won’t accept others putting them down or what the marketers of the day tell them they should be. And though it might mean people may not always see them as nice, I want them to have courage to stand up for what is good.
Kari van Wakeren is a pastor and writer in central Minnesota. She and her family love music, reading and having fun together. This blog first ran as a Give Us This Day column in the July/August 2017 issue of Gather magazine.